§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
rose to call attention to the naval administration of Her Majesty's Government and the proposed changes in the constitution of the Board of Admiralty rendered necessary by the policy pursued, and to move—That while a clear and comprehensive scheme of Naval Administration will meet with the support of this House, any plan which does not finally settle the future conduct of Naval affairs on a firm and intelligent footing, will fail to meet the circumstances which have arisen from the faulty legislation which now calls for such extensive alterations.The hon. and gallant Member said, the House had been precluded from discussing this question hitherto by the unfortunate absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) and now that he had returned, this seemed a fitting occasion for taking a review of his policy. He, therefore, begged to review, as briefly as possible, the parts of his policy in which he thought he had signally failed. He must go back to the period when he (Sir James Elphinstone) first entered Parliament—namely, in 1857. Previous to that time Sir James Graham had made great changes in the constitution of the Admiralty. He had done away with the Navy Board, with the Victualling Board, and the School of Naval Architecture, which latter he afterwards admitted he would not have abolished had he possessed the information which he had since acquired 409 on the subject. In 1857 in was the opinion of all seafaring men that events of the greatest importance to the naval service were looming in the distance. They were only beginning to lengthen ships of war by seven or ten feet; the principle of the screw, as applied to men-of-war, was in its infancy, and the idea of plating ships with iron had but partially been entertained. Men of scientific attainments were of opinion that the size and weight of ordnance should keep pace with the size of ships, and it was generally felt that it would require an amended organization of the Admiralty for the purpose of meeting the extensive changes that were likely to be made. In 1861 he brought forward a series of Resolutions drawn up by a committee of naval officers of the highest rank, and it was with reference to these Resolutions that the right hon. Gentleman the late First Lord of the Admiralty had stated that he had given his support at various times in the changes he had inaugurated at the Admiralty. The Resolutions were as follows:—1. That the mismanagement of naval affairs is due to the inefficiency of the present means of naval administration.2. That no efficient administration can be hoped for without direct personal responsibility.3. That to obtain direct personal responsibility, it is essential to abolish the Board of Admiralty, and to substitute for it a Minister of Marine, with a Secretary in the House.4. That the Minister of Marine shall be directly responsible to this House for the conduct and management of naval administration.5. That he shall be assisted by a council of not less than four naval officers, whose opinion he may consult, but to whom he is not bound to defer.6. That the members of the council be appointed for five years.7. That each department of the navy shall have a known and acknowledged head, appointed also for five years.8. That the heads of departments shall be directly responsible to the Minister of Marine, and that he shall be responsible to the country that efficient men fill them.9. That all promotions and appointments be the act of the Minister of Marine in council, submitted to him through the proper heads of departments, but for which he is personally responsible.10. That all naval commanders-in-chief be empowered to manage, and be responsible for, all questions of detail relating to their command.11. That the following departments are, in the opinion of this House, of sufficient importance to require the special superintendence of separate heads:—The discipline and training of the Navy, and general superintendence of the fleet in commission, and the submission of the appointment 410 and promotion of officers; the manning of the fleet; the construction of the Navy; the victualling of the Navy; the paying of the Navy; the controller of the coastguard; the Royal Marines; the medical department; pensions and rewards; the store department; the department of works; the hydrographer; the transport service.These Resolutions were laid before the House at the end of 1861, and most favourable articles were written with regard to them by the leading journals of the day. In 1869 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract brought forward his scheme, and, so far from agreeing with him as to its propriety, he told him it was sure to break down. On the 8th of March, 1869, when the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) introduced his Estimates, and explained the changes he proposed to effect at the Admiralty, he had warned him of the difficulties he would encounter, and pointed out the quarter from which the danger was likely to arise. He said—The objection he took to his right hon. Friend's arrangement was that it must break down; the whole construction of the Navy was to lie between the Controller of the Navy and the First Lord. With all deference to his right hon. Friend, he was not a shipbuilder; and with all deference to the Controller, he had built some very bad ships. If the whole construction of the Navy was to rest between these two authorities, the country would be in a dangerous position. At that moment he believed the pressure on the Admiralty was greater than it was during the Crimean War. Changes and reductions had been made in the storekeeper's department, which had been presided over by a man of the highest position and greatest ability, but was now left without a head; and how it was to be carried on he did not know. The whole superintendence of the machinery department, on which the locomotion of the Fleet depended, had been thrown on the shoulders of Mr. Andrew Murray, a man of great ability, but who also had the superintendence of the dockyards, on a miserable pittance that would not be offered to or accepted by the foreman of a private yard. He looked forward to a breakdown, and was convinced the alterations at the Admiralty could not stand."—[3 Hansard, cxciv. 914.]This was in March, 1869, and whether he was right or wrong in that prediction the House would judge. Shortly after that, the First Lord of the Admiralty hoisted the Lord High Admiral's flag in the Channel Fleet, and from that unfortunate period dated the difficulties and dissensions which arose in his office. That was a most dangerous and extraordinary act, not justified by any previous practice in the Navy, resembling more the acts of the French 411 Directory than the Constitutional Government of this country. The Fleet went to sea, and the result had been one of the greatest disasters, which had not been sufficiently animadverted upon. Then came the changes in the administration of the Admiralty, the reduction of the working power of the Department, the retirement of many of the best officers of the service, the breaking up of the dockyard men—a body of artificers who were a credit to the country, and formed a most valuable auxiliary force for the defence of the outports, and whose place had never been adequately supplied. Then the stokers in the Navy—a most valuable class of skilled workmen—were discharged, and the result had been a great waste of coal in the Navy, through the inefficiency of the men put in their place. When it was known that by good stoking a saving of 2,000 tons of coal might be effected on the voyage of three ships to India, he need not point out that the action of the right hon. Gentleman in this respect had been most improvident. The right hon. Gentleman had proceeded to abolish the heads of the Victualling department, and it had been asked by a noble Lord—"What is the use of a Master Attendant?" a question about as reasonable as it would be to inquire, what is the use of a spoon? And in regard to naval hospitals, the universal opinion of naval officers was that the discipline of an hospital was much better maintained by having at its head a naval man, than when it was entirely under the charge of the surgeon. Well, the right hon. Gentleman had also sold numbers of our ships; but as that subject had been already discussed, he would not occupy the attention of the House over it. About this time a transaction was effected which was certainly a most improvident one; indeed, had a Committee been appointed to inquire into the subject it would have been proved to be of a very questionable nature. He did not conceive that his right hon. Friend had the slightest knowledge of the transaction; and he was confirmed in that by the answer given to the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Eykyn) who, it appeared, was retained by the Government to ask Questions to enable them to get out of scrapes. He should like to know whether the same opinion was now entertained that was given on the 10th of August, 1870. The next matter he 412 would mention was the sale of Deptford Dockyard, which was sold to an agent connected with persons employed by the Government, at a time when property was much depreciated; and the result was, he made £25,000 by his bargain. Had the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) been granted, he believed the connection of the purchaser with persons in the service of the Government would have been shown clearly. Further, there was an abuse in the system of contracts which was derogatory to the character of this House. Contracts wore given to partners of hon. Members, and the practice was defended on the ground that a partner in his individual capacity might enter into arrangements the profits of which the firm did not share. This was a splitting of hairs inconsistent with the character of the Government of this country, and of the high character of Parliament; and if the practice were continued he would bring the subject before the House by a direct Motion. Well, then there was the notorious blunder in regard to the coal supplied to the Navy. There was substituted for the Wesh coal formerly supplied to the Navy a mixture of anthracite and bituminous coal, which produced an enormous amount of smoke. In order to burn it the old furnaces of the Navy had to be altered, and experiments of all descriptions were tried. A noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) who had presided over the Admiralty with much success, made a speech in "another place" last week on the subject of this change, in which he spoke even more strongly than would be implied from the following report:—The Duke of Somerset said that when he was at the Admiralty frequent applications were made on behalf of the coal-owners of the North to get the Admiralty to use more and more of the North-country coal; but the language he had always held on the subject was, that as long as the interests of the Navy were best served by the use of the Welsh coal he should continue to use it. Since then, however, a sort of compromise appeared to have been arrived at to satisfy the Northern constituencies by employing a mixture of Welsh and North-country coal. The result was that if they went out in one of Her Majesty's ships they would be almost smothered with smoke; and if they complained, the officer in charge would say—'Never mind; we shall soon get down to the good coal; the worst is all at the top.' Experience showed that the Welsh coal was the best for the Navy. It was stated to be apt to deteriorate in the tropics. Well, Lord Dudley once observed that morality would not keep very sweet in those 413 warm climates, and he was not sure that they could entirely rely on all the reports received from those latitudes. But he believed that naval officers all over the world, if fairly appealed to, would say—'Give us Welsh coal, and no mixture whatever.' On every ground he thought the Admiralty ought to return to the use of the Welsh coal for the Kavy."—[3 Hansard, ccx. 13.]He could speak from his own observation in regard to Welsh coal in the tropics. Wherever it was properly housed in sheds it retained its good qualities for a considerable time, in fact for a longer period than coal generally remained unused; but if it were piled in immense stacks, as it was in various parts of India, and at the bottom of the volcanic cliffs at Aden, with a prevailing temperature of 120 to 140 degrees in the sun, he could easily understand that the volatile gases would escape and the quality of the coal be deteriorated. Instead of involving the country in the cost of these experiments, and prolonging a state of things distasteful to the officers and men of the Navy, because it ruined the paint and interfered with the cleanliness of their ships, besides spoiling their clothes, the First Lord of the Admiralty need only have gone to the Geological Museum in Jermyn Street, or consulted Dr. Percy, an officer of this House, to have ascertained the component parts and quality of every description of coal, and he might thus have obviated the necessity of sending out expensive expeditions in charge of the man who had recommended this change, and whose conduct was also open to grave reflection. As to the so-called mixture, he could understand the mixing of many things—brandy and water, for instance; but he could not understand the mixing of coal. The very process must involve breaking up the greater part of the mixture into small—unless it consisted, as it generally did, of putting a certain quantity of North-country coal on the top of a quantity of Welsh coal; so that one half of the day a ship would be burning smokeless coal and the other half coal which was offensive and injurious. The smoke, too, involved serious risk, for the other day, at Devonport, he saw a trial of the Swiftsure which gave out so much black smoke that her funnel and masthead were obscured, and it occurred to him that if the Admiral had wished to recall her he could only have done so by telegraphing to the Lizard, where she 414 might not have seen the signal, so that she might have reached Lisbon before she could have been recalled. There was an instance in which one of our ships was all but run over in the performance of naval evolutions, because her position was obscured by the smoke from the bituminous coal she was burning. Next he would allude to the fine imposed upon Messrs. Baxter and Co. for not being able to fulfil a contract—a matter of which he had not heard until a Question on the subject was put on the Paper. He was much struck with the answer of the First Lord, which showed that there had been laxity in Admiralty contracts; and, as the Liberal party had governed the country for nearly 40 years, this irregularity must be mainly due to their policy. The First Lord stated that on the completion of the contract Messrs. Baxter applied for the remission of the whole penalty, on the score of the difficulty in which they were placed by the inferior quality of the previous year's crop of flax. It occurred to him on hearing this that a highly respectable firm had deliberately entered into a contract to supply certain goods without having in their possession the means of performing the contract. That showed that it must have been the practice of firms to tender in this way; and the manner in which the fine was paid also showed an extraordinary degree of laxity in the conduct of affairs. Instead of the fine being paid when it was levied by a check, so that the sum could appear in the Accountant General's books, as money received, the fine was deducted from the amount of another contract, so that the names of the parties were concealed. The sale of Deptford Dockyard, the abuse of contract by partners of Members of Parliament, the coal contract, and the payment of the penalty imposed upon Messrs. Baxter and Co., were transactions which the House was justified in probing to the bottom. Private Members ought to be extremely cautious in dealing with these reports, and they ought not to be surprised if they sometimes discovered a mare's nest. Indeed, when it was considered that the whole force of the Government was opposed to private Members, it was a wonder they were so often successful. There was an enormous sale of valuable stores, which was rendered necessary in order to enable the Government to carry 415 out the fictitious plan of economy they had announced in their programme. He intended to move for a Return of the catalogues of these sales during the last three years, and of the sums of money received therefrom, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty would offer no opposition to the Motion. It had been stated that capstans which had cost about £70 to make were sold for £10. Now, there was many a fishing town and village extremely anxious to possess a capstan, and when the Government were selling capstans, they might have made an offer to such towns and villages of an engine which would be of the greatest value to them for saving both life and property. Blocks and dead eyes were sold by the ton, and timber and other public property sold at ruinous loss, only to be replaced at greater cost. The confusion at the Admiralty became more and more intensified and the unfortunate personal differences so feelingly alluded to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) increased. With regard to the Captain, there could be no doubt that she had been received into Her Majesty's service drawing above two feet more than her specification; and he never could understand how she was permitted to go out of harbour until she was brought to her proper draught of water. Before the loss occurred there was conclusive proof that she was unsafe; but, owing to the confusion which prevailed, there was no power of conveying information on such a point from one department to another. He trusted we should see no more Captains. This was a question of administration, and not a personal matter in any way; and he hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) would not apply to himself personally any of the observations and criticisms of his Administration he had thought it his duty to make. In the spring of last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) succeeded to the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, and shortly afterwards the loss of the Megœra occurred. Considering the reports the right hon. Gentleman had before him it was astonishing that he should have insisted on sending that vessel to sea without first recalling her to harbour, dis- 416 charging her cargo, and having her thoroughly examined. Hon. Friends of his who asked Questions on this subject were snubbed and received answers which, in his opinion, the inexperience of the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have allowed him to have made. Shortly after the loss of the Megœra Her Majesty's ship Agincourt, owing to an error in pilotage, was run upon a rock. Such a mistake might occur through an error in the eyesight of any man, and it ought to be remembered that the officer who committed this particular blunder had borne an irreproachable character throughout a long and honourable career. When the Agincourt went aground seamanship was called into play, and it became evident that the officers and men of the Navy were still what they used to be and what he trusted they would ever continue to be. The rescue of that ship from her perilous position he held to be one of the great triumphs of British seamanship, and the right hon. Gentleman, instead of degrading the officers, would have been justified in saying to Admiral Wel-lesley—"The mistake made in the grounding of that ship was fully and entirely condoned by the seamanship displayed in her rescue." It had been said that Admiral Wellesley deserved the punishment he received—for it was a punishment—in consequence of his technical responsibility. In point of fact, Admiral Wellesley had no more to do with the stranding of the ship than he himself had; but, nevertheless, he was, by all the laws of naval administration, technically responsible. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly degraded him from his command, ordered him to haul his flag down, and also punished and degraded five or six other officers of as high character as any in the service. Technical responsibility was strained to the utmost in the case of Admiral Wellesley; but what became of the Parliamentary responsibility attaching to the First Lords of the Admiralty with respect to the loss of the Captain and of the Megœra? It would not do to assemble a Royal Commission to whitewash the First Lord and Her Majesty's Government, while it criticized and censured the conduct of every minor officer down to the unfortunate carpenter of the ship. A great deal had been said about Parliamentary responsibility; but 417 when a disaster occurred a lawyer was sent for to write a Report blaming everybody except those on whom the Parliamentary responsibility rested. He was alluding now to the Minute of his right hon. Friend opposite. [Mr. CHILDERS said he wrote every word of that Report himself.] He would, after that explanation, withdraw the remark; but he was extremely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should admit the authorship of such a document. The effect of the right hon. Gentleman's changes had been to overwork the officials at the Admiralty, and on this point he would cite the evidence given by Sir Sidney Dacres before the Megœra Commission. Sir Sidney, as far as he himself was concerned, did not complain of being overworked; but he did complain very much of over-responsibility, saying it was too great responsibility for any naval man to have the charge of the whole of our fleets and everything belonging to them. He thought Sir Sidney Dacres had been most wrongfully dealt with in respect to the Megœra. The fault as to that matter lay with Her Majesty's Ministers, because they did not provide the Navy with sufficient ships to discharge the duties imposed on it. He saw 15 years ago that difficulties would arise with reference to iron shipbuilding; and he therefore, on two occasions, recommended that a Standing Committee, consisting of two or three men of the greatest ability, should be appointed for the purpose of guiding the Admiralty and the Controller on those mathematical problems which it was necessary to work out with reference to the adaptation of iron to shipbuilding, and he regretted that his suggestion had not been carried out. Instead of that they had assembled a large Committee, containing some philosophers and a number of naval men belonging to the Staff of the Admiralty, and controlled by the Admiralty. Instead of calculating the stability of our ships by mathematical and hydrostatical deduction, they were sent to sea at the hazard of the lives of their crews, merely to prove whether they could sink or swim. That he called a very lubberly proceeding. Five or six years ago the House authorized the iron plating of five line-of-battle ships. One of them, the Prince Consort, had been brought into dock in a very bad condition. The First Lord of the Admiralty was extremely aston- 418 ished to hear his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) say that the repairs of that ship would cost £60,000. He (Sir James Elphinstone) thought the repairs would cost more than £60,000, and the place of these ships must now be supplied. The right hon. Gentleman on Monday last virtually gave up those alterations at the Admiralty which had produced such serious consequences. He (Sir James Elphinstone) hoped there would be no more tinkering at the Admiralty. If they were to make alterations, let them do so after due consideration. Before alterations were made, let men of the highest scientific and professional attainments be consulted. Above all things, let not the Admiralty overwork their officers. An overworked department was always on the verge of disaster. The Admiralty were now exacting from their officers more work than the human frame could endure. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he endorsed every word that had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friend; but he was sure that his hon. and gallant Friend would forgive him when he said that in his criticism of the late Board and the present Board of Admiralty, it appeared to him that he had omitted what was perhaps the most important criticism that ought to be made on that subject. The point was this—that all the alterations, modifications, or improvements which might be tried at the Board of Admiralty would be so much labour wasted until one indispensable change was made and a sailor was put at the head of the Department. In the remarks which he was about to make he did not wish to disparage in any way the right hon. Gentleman who now held the office of First Lord, or those who had gone before him. They were all men of great ability and high powers of mind; but be their ability what it might, he maintained that no civilian was competent to conduct with efficiency or to the advantage of the country the affairs of the Board of Admiralty. Was there any precedent for putting at the head of a great undertaking a man who knew nothing on earth of the matters with which he had to deal? That was the case of a civilian Lord at the head of the Admi- 419 ralty. The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. T. Brassey) pointed out the other night with great clearness the manner in which large private establishments conducted their business by placing at the head of the different departments men who knew their duty, and were conversant with the matters with which they had to deal; but he had no recollection that the hon. Gentleman had said a single word in favour of putting at the head of the Admiralty a man who knew nothing of the business. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) compared the Board of Admiralty to a Judge and jury, the First Lord being the Judge, and the Board the jury. But he wished to remind the hon. Member that a Judge was a lawyer who understood his business, and knew what he was talking about when dealing with the evidence and pointing out to the jury the course they ought to take. But what was the position of a civilian at the head of the Admiralty? Was he able to point out to naval officers the course which they ought to pursue?
§ MR. SAMUDA
explained that what he intended to convey was exactly the reverse; it was that the First Lord of the Admiralty could act properly only when he received instructions from the heads of the departments.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry) had quoted the case of the Army. But, so far as our present experience went, all the good of putting a civilian at the head of the Army was that we had spent millions of money for the purpose of changing the status and position of officers, who up to the present time had been the envy and admiration of the world. There was one word that was always heard ringing in the House, and that was "responsibility." Now, he contended that it was perfectly impossible for men who were placed in positions, with the duties of which they were not conversant, to be properly responsible. There was no responsibility in the House of Commons for the management of the Navy. He had lately read the Report of the Megœra Commission, and it was his belief that the Commissioners were completely mistaken in censuring subordinates instead of the head of the Department; for it was clear that the loss of the Megœra was entirely attri- 420 butable to the present system upon which the Board of Admiralty was constructed. If there had been a sailor at the head of that Board, his firm belief was that the system which now existed, under which a certain amount of blame might be attributed to subordinates, would never have existed, because it would be mere child's play to a seaman to inaugurate a system by which a proper survey would be made of every ship before sending her to sea. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had been cautioned from all quarters about the ship; questions were asked as to her condition again and again; but all the right hon. Gentleman could do was to read the reports of officials, and to conclude that as they were responsible persons, the ship might go to sea with safety. Any sailor would at once have said that the vessel was not in a condition to go to sea with safety. He held the Admiralty to be responsible for the loss of that vessel. The right hon. Member for Tyrone had spoken the other night of a "heaven-born" genius. We had some of them about us, and he did not think they had done much good. He preferred a man who had been bred to his trade to a "heaven-born" genius. It had been said that for many years the Admiralty had flourished under a Board with a civilian at its head. That was perfectly true; but then the system was practically this—the naval men governed the Admiralty, and the civilian First Lord was merely their spokesman in this House. So far as the service of the country was concerned, the best thing any civilian First Lord could do was to go away where he liked on pleasure directly he was appointed and never go near the Board of Admiralty. The greater the activity of mind and ability of a civilian First Lord, the worse it was for the public service, and the best thing he could do was to pocket his £5,000 and go clear away. There were other men in office with £5,000 a-year, and the amount of mischief some of them did for the money was marvellous. But they had not the power of doing mischief which the First Lord possessed. Want of experience must always bring him to grief. The Admiralty was the one office of all others over which a professional man should preside. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had remarked, as a defence 421 of the system, that there were eight sailors in the Admiralty; but what was the use of them when they had no control over the business of the Board, and no responsibility in that House? They might or might not advise the civilian First Lord, who might or might not take their advice. The House of Commons knew nothing of these eight sailors. It made no difference whatever in this respect whether there were eight or 80 sailors within the walls of the Admiralty. He did not wish to cast the slightest reflection upon the abilities of the present First Lord or his predecessor; but he had always been surprised how any man of great talent and high standing in this House could consent to be placed in such a false position. What would have been said of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) it he had announced that he had been appointed Astronomer Royal or Archbishop of Canterbury? He was quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman would have been placed in a more appropriate position if he had accepted one of those two posts than the one which he did accept. He entirely agreed that each dockyard should have a professional head; but if that rule applied to subordinate departments, surely it applied with tenfold force to the Admiralty itself. The Admiralty was the most important Department in this country, for upon it the safety of the country depended; but the want of professional knowledge and skill in the First Lord made confusion worse confounded. What could he do except consult his professional colleagues? But to whom was the House to look if anything went wrong? Was the right hon. Gentleman, or were his professional advisers, responsible? The House ought to be able to say to the head of the Department—"You are responsible;" and unless that system were established the details of management were of minor importance. Another defect in the existing system was the want of permanence on the part of the head of the Board. So long as he remained the mere puppet of the House, going in or out of office with the Ministry, so long it would be impossible for a continuous good system to be established. Then, as to naval designs, the responsibility for any one man was too great, especially when we were now building an entirely new class of ships. 422 He was old enough to remember when the French built the finest ships in the world; but they had a Board of Design, composed of the ablest designers in the country. It might be asked, if he was right in asserting that there was no precedent for having a civilian at the head of the Admiralty, how it was that that system had lasted so long? That was a question that it was not difficult to answer. The reason was, that the post of First Lord of the Admiralty was too great a prize in the political wheel to be readily given up. That was, he believed, the sole cause why the Ins and Outs had united to preserve that great prize for their own use and emolument. A noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had made a speech the other day at Liverpool, which contained one remark which he thought of great force. He said that the practice of modern politicians was something like the proceedings of an acrobat, and that their great object was to "swarm up" a greased pole, at the top of which were to be found £5,000 a-year and lots of patronage. He should not state whether he endorsed that opinion or not; but as long as civilians insisted on retaining a lucrative post for which they were not qualified, so long would it be in the minds of men that there was a great deal of truth in the remark which he had just quoted. He had simply, in conclusion, to ask the House whether it was right, considering the magnitude of the interests at stake, to continue a system for which, as he had shown, there was no precedent. He begged to second the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "while a clear and comprehensive scheme of Naval Administration will meet with the support of this House, any plan which does not finally settle the future conduct of Naval affairs on a firm and intelligible footing, will fail to meet the circumstances which have arisen from the faulty legislation which now calls for such extensive alterations,"—(Sir James Elphinstone,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHILDERS
The hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken have so pointedly referred to me, that perhaps the House will allow me to interpose 423 for a few minutes before my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty introduces the Navy Estimates. While thanking the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down for the undeserved manner in which he has spoken about myself, I think I ought to say that he answered his own question in the latter part of his speech, when, while objecting that the First Lord of the Admiralty was not a sailor, he admitted that the present arrangement was practically necessary so long as the Admiralty was a Department at the head of which was placed a political person. That is the whole solution of the matter. If Parliament was of opinion that the management of so great a Department could be intrusted to a permanent servant, and that it was not necessary for him to be in the Cabinet—that he should, in fact, be treated like the head of the Excise or Customs—then there would be a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman has stated. I go entirely with him in the view that there is not sufficient permanence in our professional offices, and I state that as the result of my experience. I rejoiced to hear from the proposals which my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty shadowed forth the other day that that permanence will be strengthened; but I must say that I doubt very much whether the country and Parliament would ever adopt a system under which the First Lord of the Admiralty would no longer be a Member of either House of Parliament, and all the most important affairs that would have to be transacted, many of them of a high political character, would be handed over to a permanent servant not a Member of either House. The hon. Member has said that the old system was practically a system of handing over the government of the Navy to a committee of naval officers, of which only the First Lord was the spokesman; but claiming this for it now, he forgot his own criticism on it when it was in force. He blamed me for having made considerable changes in the system; but I must remind him that before those changes were made he spoke against the former system as strongly as he has spoken to-night against the system inaugurated three years ago. The hon. Gentleman will now be satisfied with nothing short of handing over the entire management of naval affairs to a body 424 of permanent professional officers, which is the only thing he thinks will save us from certain evils; but I venture to think that such a system is simply impossible. I wish, in the next place, to say a few words in reply to what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone), who has addressed the House with his usual good nature, but who has made an attack upon me with a sharpness which, considering the matters to which he referred were not novel, I should hardly have expected. For instance, he again raised the old question of the sale of Deptford Dockyard, which has been raised before I do not know how many times. But I had imagined that all these charges—some of which were of the "Chaffers" kind—had been quite satisfactorily disposed of [Sir JAMES ELPHINSTONE: They never were explained.] They were most distinctly and completely met. Some one who was said to be some one else's relative turned out to be no relation at all, and some one who was said to have had business relations with some one else turned out never to have seen him. Charges of that kind were easily disposed of. But one charge connected with Deptford Dockyard I do wish to call attention to, for the fact is simply this. Part of Deptford Dockyard was valued and was offered to the City of London at a certain price. They did not think fit to accept the offer, and it was then purchased for that price by another person, from whom the City of London afterwards purchased it at a very large premium. The citizens of London are, therefore, those to have a right to complain of their governing body in the matter, and I have no doubt the latter will be able to give a very satisfactory answer. The hon. Gentleman fell into a complete delusion on another subject, which I had hoped would not be alluded to again. He said that "in the case of a fine upon a contractor it is a very bad arrangement, as a matter of business, to deduct that sum from the payments due to the contractor. Instead of that you should pay him what was due to him and receive back from him afterwards the fine you had imposed on him, and the proceeds of the fine should go into the Exchequer." But the proceeds of all fines do go, as a matter of ac- 425 count, into the Exchequer, and the whole amount of the payment does appear as a payment from the Government; but it is a very good arrangement, as a matter of business, to stop the fine on the way and only pay the difference to the contractor. As to the partners of Members of Parliament taking contracts on their own account, I never heard of this charge before; it must have been made last year when I was not in the House. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the arrangements in force for some years past as overworking a great many officers. He quoted the case of the Controller of the Navy in particular, as being a greatly-overworked officer. But the Controller himself, when he was examined before the Duke of Somerset's Committee, distinctly denied that he was overworked, and said that since those arrangements had been in force the work generally had been better done, with less straining, and at a considerably diminished cost; and added, that he had an hour and a-half to spare daily for other work, which he wanted to be consulted about. The hon. Gentleman had also mentioned another matter, and I hear with surprise that the rumour to which he alluded has had considerable currency, and that it has been believed that the Minute I wrote last year, on a subject very painful to me, was not my composition, but that I had foisted on the country and on Parliament the very long, carefully-stated, and, I maintain, accurate Minute—to the whole of which I adhere, but which he says was really written by some lawyer. Now, I wish to give emphatically and conclusively the most absolute contradiction to that statement. I wrote every syllable of that Minute myself; I spent more than a month in writing it; I gave to it the greatest amount of pains and care; and I should have been ashamed to be guilty of such conduct as he has insinuated.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
trusted that the hon. Gentlemen the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment would excuse him for not replying on the present occasion to the statements they had made, as he would have the opportunity of doing so in Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.426
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.